Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Ian Paisley claims to have been ‘forced out’ as First Minister by the DUP

Ian Paisley, one-time firebrand spokesman for radical unionism and latterly the first Democratic Unionist to hold the post of First Minister of Northern Ireland, has claimed in an interview for the BBC that he was the victim of a palace coup.

In an interview with the BBC he claims that his successor as First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Nigel Dodds MP (who is now the party’s deputy leader) conspired to force his resignation. The allegations are the latest challenge to face Robinson, who has ‘survived much’ since taking over from Paisley, not least losing his East Belfast parliamentary seat to the Alliance Party and seeing scandal engulf his wife, Iris.

The programme also discusses his break with the Free Presbyterian Church, which he alleges was due to unease about his sharing government with Sinn Fein. Paisley founded the church in 1951.

Lord Bannside, as Paisley is now known, was described in the press as ‘increasingly isolated’ after his interview was greeted with silence from both his old party and church.

Police find ‘no evidence of criminality’ in Unite emails from Falkirk

The emails were first cited by the Sunday Times as revealing the extent to which Stevie Deans, a full-time Unite staffer at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant, had been involved in a plot to influence the selection of the Labour candidate for the Falkirk constituency.

However, a police examination of the emails has discovered no evidence of lawbreaking, and Police Scotland have closed their investigation. Unite’s General Secretary, Len McCluskey, blamed ‘anti-union hysteria’ for the investigation, claiming that the union had been ‘totally vindicated’ in its staunch defence of Deans.

Of course, there remains a difference between dodgy dealing and actually breaking the law. So far as I can tell this is by no means a blanket exoneration of Unite against the claims that it was interfering in Labour’s internal processes in Falkirk – simply that they weren’t, on the evidence of these emails, breaking the law to do so.

Unionist MLAs urge Dublin to investigate extent to which it ‘nurtured’ IRA

As MLAs pass a DUP motion demanding the Irish government ‘pursue justice’, Unionist MLAs have called on Dublin to build on the Smithwick Enquiry into collusion between the Garda (Irish Police) and the IRA. The tribunal found no direct evidence of collusion in the murders of two RUC officers, but Smithwick found that ‘the balance of probability’ suggested it.

Now Unionists want an investigation into the broader role played by the government of Taoiseach Jack Lynch in creating the IRA as it waged its campaign against Northern Ireland during the Troubles, as well as possible collusion between Republican terrorists and the Irish Army.

Sinn Fein MLAs argued that British collusion with loyalist paramilitarism was much more serious and systematic than any links between the Irish government and Republican groups. They also claimed that Smithwick set a ‘new standard of evidence’ and urged unionists to publicly accept ‘balance of probability’ as the threshold of evidence for cases of alleged loyalist collaboration too.

Independence: The SNP’s Achilles heel?

Scottish Labour blogger Ian Smart is very much not a Conservative. Nonetheless, he writes a lot of stuff that is very much of interested to those of us – which ought to be nearly all of us – who care about the fate of our party north of the border. I’d just like to bring your attention to a couple of his recent posts.

The first is about the upcoming Scottish Parliamentary by-election in Cowdenbeath (which I pegged last week as fairly dull, due to being a Labour safe seat). According to Ian the nationalists have taken the unusual step of actually mentioning independence on the doorstep, which appears to be playing havoc with their typical anti-Labour supporters. Having carefully cultivated a reputation as a pragmatic, patriotic party of government north of the border (the ‘tartan Tories’ indeed), the independence referendum is tying the SNP to one of their least popular policies.

This leaves an opening for the actual tartan Tories, which is the subject of Ian’s second post, in which he offers some advice to the Scottish Conservative’s new head of strategy and points out – from the perspective of someone who can’t be accused of wishful thinking – how deceptive the apparent non-existence of support for us in Scotland actually is. Three SNP MPs are only a few thousand votes ahead of a second-placed Tory challenger, and with independence prying the SNP away from centre-right, pro-union voters it’s not a flight of fantasy to think we might win them.

Naturally it has proved very difficult to under-estimate the fortunes of the Scottish Conservatives in recent years but nonetheless, such observations from a patently non-Conservative source are food for thought.

Rise in English university places could cost generous Cardiff more than £7 million

George Osborne’s December announcement that a cap on English university places would be lifted has caused great consternation in Wales, according to the BBC. Higher Education Wales believes that 1,500 Welsh students might take advantage of the new places to study across the border in England.

This is problematic, because under the current Welsh arrangements for higher education funding Welsh students only pay the first £3,500 of their tuition fees, with the Welsh government picking up the rest – wherever they go. With English universities now charging an average of £8,000 per annum, a flood of students to England could cost the Welsh government $4,500 per student – which when multiplied by the 1,500 figure suggests a £6.75 million bill. Some feel that the money would be better spent in Wales, on Welsh institutions.

In response the Welsh administration expressed scepticism that Welsh uptake of new English places would be so high, and pointed out that English students bring more money into Wales to study at Welsh universities than leaves with Welsh students every year.

SNP to promote smaller glasses to encourage (not coerce, for once) ‘responsible’ drinking

Since taking office in 2007 the nationalist administration in Edinburgh has exhibited one particular political enthusiasm. Not separatism – genuine enthusiasm for that seems rather thin on the ground amongst the SNP’s senior leadership, who try not to talk about it save in the context of a referendum they probably didn’t want.

No, what really gets the Scottish government going is public health authoritarianism. Scotland ‘led the way’ on the smoking ban, and new legislation continues to roll out as part of a drive to enforce complete tobacco prohibition on Scotland by 2034. Not content with this, they’re also squaring up to Scotland’s drinking culture.

Now, alcohol successfully saw off the last high tide of puritan prescriptivism a century ago and does not carry the same stigma that has been attached to smoking. So things like outright bans, advertising bans and so on aren’t going to be acceptable to the public, at least for the moment. Thus the SNP has decided to take a different tack and has launched a proposal which genuinely involves broadening consumer choice and appealing to the un-coerced judgements of free citizens.

The language of choice has been used in this cause before – notably in the surreal suggestion that leaving the UK would ‘allow’ Scots to drink and smoke less (or at least allow the Scottish government to make them). But this time they seem to really mean it, which is a pleasant change. Whether that respect for personal choice will hold if Scots freely choose to indulge in large glasses of wine? That remains to be seen.

UKIP’s Scottish chairman: Glasgow Council is for “gays, Catholics and communists”

Arthur Thackeray, UKIP’s interim Scottish chairman, has been referred by the party for counselling after describing Glasgow council in homophobic and sectarian terms. According to the Scotsman, Thackeray apparently equated Catholicism with fascism and described a “suffocating culture of anti-loyalism” in the city.

My ‘British History’ revealed…

Recently I took up a post at British Future, a non-partisan think-tank that examines questions around national identity, immigration and integration in this country. One of the things they run is a video series called ‘British Histories’, where staff and members of the public are cornered and asked to talk about their sense of identity for a couple of minutes.

For those interested, my video can be found here.